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Ask.com Marketing Getting More Interactive?

According to IAC CFO Tom McInerney during this week’s quarterly call (from PaidContent):

“As you know, the business is related to driving new users, obviously frequency and retention we have seen good improvements in frequency and retention, but it’s offset by not having the growth in new users on the Ask.com business…we can very scientifically look at the marketing spend in the US and relate that to new user growth and so the way to measure it is by new users showing up at the site and we’re not seeing it with this marketing campaign, the way we have seen it with prior marketing campaigns. What we’re doing on that front is retooling the marketing campaign, making it a much stronger call to action and much more product demo spots for later in the year and we hope that will have some effect.

I hope he means fewer ads on billboards, and more stuff like Ask’s sponsorship Ask A Ninja. Can’t be a bad move to “retool” toward more tactics that deliver 8.3% trial rates!

Boing Boing Uses Voice Post to Add the Soundtrack

In his post yesterday, “Songs for Ice Cream Trucks,” David Pescovitz at Boing Boing uses the voice post technology to play the music, literally.

Original post on voice posts.

FM's Conversational Marketing Summit, Sept 11-12

FM’s Conversational Marketing Summit is offering early-bird discounts, register here. The speaker roster is filling out, too:

Jay Adelson; CEO, Digg.com.
Heather Armstrong; Founder, Dooce.
Jon Armstrong; Founder, Dooce.
Paul Beck; Senior Partner, Ogilvy.
Barak Berkowitz; CEO, Six Apart.
Matt Cohler; VP Strategy, Facebook.
Laura Desmond; CEO, Starcom MediaVest Group/The Americas.
Scott Donaton; Publisher, AdAge.
Sarah Fay; President, Isobar US.
Shawn Gold; SVP Marketing & Content, MySpace.com.
David Grubb; Worldwide Media Director; Microsoft.
Curt Hecht; EVP, Chief Digital Officer, Starcom MediaVest Group.
Carla Hendra; Co-CEO, Ogilvy North America.
Casey Jones; VP Marketing, Dell.
Patrick Keane; EVP, CMO, CBS Interactive.
David Lawee; VP Marketing, Google.
Ross Levinsohn; Former President, Fox Interactive Media.
Daina Middleton; Dir, Global Interactive Marketing , Imaging and Printing Group, HP.
Jon Miller; Former Chairman & CEO, AOL Inc.
Kent Nichols; Writer, Performer, Beatbox Giant Productions.
Greg Ott; VP, Global Marketing, Ask.com.
Randall Rothenberg; President & CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau.
Suzie Reider; Head of Advertising Sales, Youtube.
Douglas Sarine; Writer, Performer, Beatbox Giant Productions.
Tina Sharkey; Chairman and Global President, BabyCenter, LLC.
Suhaila Suhimi-Waldner; East Coast Director, Digital, OMD.
Rishad Tobaccowala; CEO, Denuo.
Johnny Vulkan; Founder, Anomaly.
Jeff Weiner; EVP, Network Division, Yahoo!

Voice Posts Roll Out on Ars Technica, Searchblog

The voice post technology arrives just in time for John Battelle at Searchblog, who broke one of his typing hands last week at camp with the kids. I know what you’re thinking — I made him break his hand as part of the HP sponsorship deal, but, alas, I didn’t.  Also, Ken Fisher at Ars Technica debuts his site’s voice post series with a review of Tivo HD.

Voice Posts: Conversational Marketing Gets a Voice

Earlier this week, several FM sites rolled out their first “voice posts,” a new series of editorial segments served up as audio files on blog sites. HP is the sponsor of the series, meaning their logo appears under the audio file with copy that says “voice post technology sponsored by HP iPaq 510.” HP also bought banner ads on the sites. Beyond that, though, HP has no relationship to or influence over the content of the voice posts — a brilliant stroke on their part. Why? Two reasons.

HP voice post player
First, by giving blog authors a new, easy-to-use platform to talk to their readers (listeners?) about topics of their own choosing, HP stands a much better chance of creating a “voice post habit” among top independent bloggers. Mark Frauenfelder, for example, one of Boing Boing’s editors, reads an excerpt from his book, “The World’s Worst.” According to Amazon, the paperback edition is 176 pages long. If Mark gets good feedback from Boing Boing readers, he’s got a lot more book to read — in his own voice! — for voice-posting on the site. Not that HP’s logo will necessarily accompany hundreds of future voice posts on Boing Boing (their current sponsorship runs for 2 months); but presumably the HP and the iPaq brands benefit if more bloggers and more online media consumers get comfortable with voice-to-text and text-to-voice activities.

Second, not every visitor to these sites will understand what’s meant by “voice post technology sponsored by HP iPaq 510.” So David Ponce at OhGizmo used a voice post to explain to his audience exactly what HP paid for (ads on his site and the HP logo under voice posts), and what they didn’t (his editorial content). Transparency and full disclosure, never bad things, are enormously important practices for independent publishers (who tend to face greater, or at least more vocal, scrutiny than traditional publishers, see this or this) and for publishers exploring marketing that goes beyond standard ad banners. And while HP didn’t pay OhGizmo to write or “voice” a disclosure, they benefited from it: It’s impossible for an author to disclose a sponsorship relationship without naming the involved sponsor. In OhGizmo’s case, David mentions HP or iPaq five times in the voice post and another five times in the accompanying text post, both under the headline “Voice Posts On OhGizmo: An Explanation, A Disclaimer And An Example.”

Nice going, HP.

(Disclosure: FM represents OhGizmo and Boing Boing and takes a commission on advertising that runs on those sites, and I work for FM.)

Update 7/24: The voice post technology arrives just in time for John Battelle at Searchblog, who broke one of his typing hands last week at camp with the kids. I know what you’re thinking — I made him break his hand as part of the HP sponsorship deal, but, alas, I didn’t. Also, Ken Fisher at Ars Technica debuts his site’s voice post series with a review of Tivo HD.

Update 7/31: Boing Boing uses voice posts to add the soundtrack to their site.

Update 8/14: As voice posts add to content, readers demand access. Here’s what the editors at Boing Boing are doing about it, according to David Pescovitz.

BB Audio from Guatemala


Update 8/31: HP marketing staffer and blogger Tac Anderson asks the question, Is This Really Advertising?, to which he replies:

“Technically yes. The better answer is that this is the way new media advertising *should* be done. It leverages ad dollars to bring additional value to a community that is not interruptive. I don’t know who on the HP side came up with this but I think it’s great.”

Update 9/15: Here’s a handful of comments from readers of Battelle’s Searchblog.
SB LogoSearchblog comments

Corporations Still Control Marketing Conversation, But Less Now Than Before

Nick Carr’s recent column for Guardian Unlimited is called, “How corporations still control the marketing conversation.”

I like the implied admission that these conversations — what we used to call publications — are controlled at some level by the corporations who pay the bills through advertising. (Excluding, of course, Ms Magazine and Consumer Reports.) Hey, admitting the problem is a great place to start! He even turns the mirror on his own sector of the media business:

“Even in traditional media, the line dividing marketing and editorial content has long been a blurry one. Many newspapers and magazines publish in their pages advertorials written by companies, even though they know that many readers don’t distinguish the paid content from the articles written by journalists.”

But, ironically, he concludes with this:

“It has long been assumed that the internet, by democratising media, would level the playing field, shifting power away from corporations and to individuals. A lone person, using a computer and a web connection, could broadcast his opinion about a company or a product to the entire world. There’s truth in that, but it’s not the whole truth. As the line between media and marketing blurs further, corporations are finding that the web may give them more power to influence what people see and do. In the end, conversational marketing is more about marketing than about conversation.”

When the NY Times let ATT wallpaper the print pages of the business section in January 2007, horrified readers didn’t have an easy channel to voice their feedback. Or when it has launched new sections of the newspaper — such as Automobiles or Small Business — not because there was suddenly more news about those topics, but because advertisers would pay the Times more if they wrote more stories on those topics, there was no forum for public discussion. When the Wall Street Journal promoted Dell advertorial videos as video news coverage (with another tech vendor’s commercials running before and after the advertorial, to make the ruse complete!) the traditional journalists at the Journal and its competitors looked the other way. When CNET, ZDNet, PC Magazine, CNN, Fortune, or Car and Driver have lent their voices, words, logos and names to advertisers for use in ad creative — it’s something we consumers just have to deal with, quietly.

When websites — especially the new generation of “conversational” sites that , oh my!, make it easy for their readers to express themselves right there in the publications (attached to the story itself, not on page 28 where “letters to the editor” are hidden) — explore more relevant approaches to advertising, they DO open themselves up for criticism, actively. They invite it, in fact, because they recognize their survival depends on listening to reader feedback and improving from it. Conversational media and conversational marketing certainly “level the playing field” and “shift the power away from corporations” more than old school media and marketing ever has. It ain’t perfect yet, but it’s a move in the right direction.

The End of Business 2.0

From Forbes, the September issue of Business 2.0 will be its last.

“…media outlets focused on startups and new technology haven’t shared in Silicon Valley’s resurgence. Venerable tech title InfoWorld cranked out its final print edition in April. One-time venture capital bible Red Herring–under new management since the tech bust–has struggled to pay its bills. PC Magazine’s editor-in-chief left that magazine after ad pages fell 33.5% through March of this year. Even one-time online powerhouse CNET Networks is reporting growing losses as the companies it covers flourish.

“Part of the explanation: Ad dollars that used to be spent touting new products in tech publications are being spent buying ads via sophisticated, keyword-based ad systems such as Google’s–a phenomenon that has helped power the tech industry’s resurgence. Meanwhile, fast-moving, low-overhead blogs are pushing into the territory once dominated by magazines such as the Industry Standard and Upside, and they’re sucking up many of the ad dollars that remain.”

An earlier Forbes article put even more of the blame on companies like FM:

“Meanwhile, Industry Standard founder John Battelle is keeping the bonfire of the print titles burning. His Federated Media Publishing is selling ads on more than 100 blogs, giving ad buyers the ability to spend big money on a collection of highly specialized sites–many of them focused on tech–that suit their needs. ‘If Cisco has to spend, I don’t know, a couple of million dollars on a trade campaign, they are not spending it with Red Herring or Business 2.0. They are spending it with Federated Media, with bloggers who cover the sector,’ says Rafat Ali, editor and publisher of online media tracker PaidContent.org.”

WSJ On The 10th Birthday of Blogs

The WSJ celebrates 10 years of blogging with an article called “Happy Blogiversary.” Video interviews with Boingers Cory Doctorow and David Pescovitz, and Techdirt’s Dennis Yang, among others. Mia Farrow names Boing Boing as one her personal favorites. Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster lists Techdirt and Metafilter among his. Congrats!

Anil Dash on Conversational Marketing

Anil Dash, Chief Evangelist at Six Apart and among the folks credited with launching the blog movement (here’s his bio), added this to the discussion of conversational marketing:

“There’s been a (mostly boring) conversation going between some blogs over the past few days regarding the line between editorial and advertising. Largely, this is a case of the same silly-meme-into-faux-fact path that I tried to document yesterday. In this case, it’s a little lessinnocent — Nick Denton used a Valleywag blog post to take a jab at John Battelle and FM Pub by implying its writers sold out by creating copy for a Microsoft campaign that ran on their sites.

“The whole thing is, as I said, mostly boring, except that the idea of the post is what ended up being debated, instead of the fact that this is really a case of a not-that-serious personal rivalry turning into an assault on the credibility of a number of good bloggers. And a number of overrated ones, but that’s beside the point.

“Again with the disclaimers: I know both Nick and John, and like them both for what they’re good at, as well as for what makes them different. And I have good friends in both of their companies. This isn’t name-dropping; A big part of my job is making connections to people who do innovative things with blogs and in the blogging industry, and they both fall squarely into that description.

“But Nick is being pretty transparently intellectually dishonest here — throwing bombs at John and FM not because he believes what he’s saying, but because he knows it’ll get attention. The idea of advertising becoming more blog-like is a good thing. If every ad were written by an actual human, had a permanent link to its location, and let people share or tag it, we’d end up with a radically better advertising culture.

The idea of a media team creating advertising content isn’t new — it’s as old as publishing itself. And it continues today. Here’s Ziff Davis’ Contract Publishing services. In public media, here’s PBS’ Red Book guidelines for underwriting content. Sure, it makes sense to have different teams be responsible for money and editorial. But in blogging, where the editor is the publisher and you can’t split a one-person staff in half, merging these functions isn’t just logical, it’s inevitable. Perhaps if Nick hadn’t been a pioneering blogger himself, I’d have believed he was simply mistaken.

“In this case, though, we’re fortunate to have some pretty articulate advocates for the idea of conversational marketing. For example, FM Pub’s Chas Edwards does a great job of telling the story (link).

“But perhaps the best advocate for this style of conversational marketing is Nick Denton. From three years ago…..”

In Anil’s post, he’s pulled material from Gawker Media’s own media kit from 3 years ago, including the offer to “provide editorial talent and oversight” and the statement that “campaign weblogs allow a marketer to participate in the weblog conversation, rather than observe it as a passive sponsor.”

I think Nick and I agree more than I thought!

Om and Arrington in USA Today

In USA Today

“GigaOm has readers numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and TechCrunch’s audience tops a million. But that doesn’t accurately reflect their far-reaching influence. TechCrunch is the fourth-most-linked-to blog on the Internet, says Technorati, a blog search engine. GigaOm ranks 34th, a still impressive number given that Technorati tracks more than 86 million blogs.”